GarageBand: Tips To Go Pro

GarageBand is a user friendly recording application from Apple. Getting the latest Mac version (there's an iOS version too) only costs a few bucks in the App store. Note this article based on v10 for Mac.

Professional users may opt for Logic Pro, Avid's Pro Tools, or some other "pro" level software, but GarageBand is no pushover. Great for songwriting and getting your feet wet using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), GarageBand is also capable of producing music for commercial release. The better the skills and talent of the user, the better the potential results when recording using any system or software. Let's look at a few tips that may help you up your game with GarageBand.

Record and bounce at 24 bit

The default recording setting is high quality, but you can milk GarageBand for more by recording at 24 bit. Under Preferences, choose Advanced. Next to Audio Recording Resolution, select 24-Bit. Not only should 24 bit sound better, it will maintain higher quality when using processing (such as plugins). Your recordings will be more compatible with professional recording standards should you transfer a GarageBand recording to a professional setting or upgrade to Logic Pro1.

Once the recording is finished and the mix is to your liking, it's time to create a stereo master. Under the Share menu, choose Export Song to Disk. In the pull down menu next to Quality, choose Uncompressed (AIFF) 24-bit. Making a full resolution copy is a smart move. You can always generate alternate formats (such as AAC) from that master copy or directly from Garageband. Also, a high resolution master is needed if you should choose (or need, let's be optimistic here) professional mastering services.

Mastering is a final step that can make your mixes sound more competitive with commercial releases.

Use an external project drive

Video and audio professionals generally use a separate drive for project/media files. What's the point? The system drive has to read the operating system, the software program, an possibly audio loops or other sound files depending on what elements you’re using and how your system is setup. It is possible to install a secondary drive in some Mac models, but for the most part this means using an external drive (USB, FIrewire, Thunderbolt).

GarageBand does not seem to be overly picky, but a fast drive can provide more tracks and quicker editing response. With a traditional hard drive, as opposed to solid state, look at 7200rpm (or 10,000rpm) models. Design features, such as the chipset, can impact real time streaming performance as well. Consider a drive designed, or tested, for audio and video use (AV). This is true whether using a solid state or traditional rotating platter design. (see External Hard Drives: Which To Use?)

Use two tracks for mix moves

You may find it easier to handle complex mix moves by splitting a single recorded track on to two tracks. This allows using separate settings for each of the tracks. GB's automation and mixing features are not as sophisticated as its big brother Logic Pro, making this trick even more useful.

For example, use one track for the vocal verses and another for the choruses if the vocal dynamics go from soft in the verses to loud in the choruses. Or perhaps you simply want to process sections of the song differently for creative reasons. To clarify, we are taking one recorded track and splitting it onto two tracks solely for mixing control.

  • Create a new track or use the duplicate track feature.
  • Split regions at playhead as needed, then drag audio sections onto the alternate track (with alternate settings). The same section of audio should never exist on both tracks simultaneously.
  • Add plugins and adjust settings for each track.

It is important to maintain the same time line/grid location when dragging a region onto the new track. As an alternate to dragging region by region you can drag/paste all of the audio, then delete sections on each track to create a similar result.

Use Audio Units (AU) plugins

Audio Units plug-ins can add a professional layer to GarageBand. Companies that make popular AU format plug-ins include Waves, Soundtoys, McDSP, Plugin-Alliance, and Native Instruments, along with many others. The prices vary with the downside being that some are quite expensive. Signing up for mailing lists and paying close attention to giveaways can reap nice freebies or low cost plugins.

Make sure GarageBand is enabled to use AU plugins. In GB Preferences menu, select Audio/MIDI, then check the box next to Audio Units. To use an AU plug-in on a track select the track, then Show Smart Controls under the View menu (shortcut “B”). Expand the Smart Controls window by clicking the inspector icon ("i"). Under plugins click an open slot (or existing plugin to replace it), then look for Audio Units at the bottom. Click to show the available AU plugins on your system available to GB. A notice may appear with the option to keep or bypass the GarageBand processing as well.

1GarageBand songs can be opened by Logic Pro.

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